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New Year’s tradition brings dozens to jump into Lake Lanier

New Year’s tradition brings dozens to jump into Lake Lanier

In celebration of the New Year more than 120 people jump into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday.


In celebration of the New Year Zach Brown, 15, Holden Barnes, 15, Steven Hollibush and Bryce Barnes all of Gainesville jump into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday. Over 120 people jumped into the water which was said to be just over 40 degrees. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

In celebration of the New Year Zach Brown, 15, Holden Barnes, 15, Steven Hollibush and Bryce Barnes all of Gainesville jump into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday. Over 120 people jumped into the water which was said to be just over 40 degrees. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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17th Annual Polar Bear Swim

In celebration of the New Year more than 120 people jump into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday.

In celebration of the New Year more than 120 people jump into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday.

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Elaine Lee, 11, and MaryJane Lee, 12, of Lawrenceville leap into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Karla Kiefer of Baldwin and Linda Lister of Gainesville make their way to the step latter after jumping into Lake Lanier while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim in Gainesville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Madison Savage, Katie Brown, Gay Anne Agnew and Emily McCoun gather for a photograph with their homemade 2014 shirts prior to participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim at Lake Lanier in Gainesville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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A group of employees and friends from Montaluce Winery in Dahlonega jump together in celebration of the New Year while participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim at Lake Lanier in Gainesville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Linda Lister, left, of Gainesville and Karla Kiefer of Baldwin put on their festive hats prior to participating in the 17th annual Lanier Canoe Kayak Club Polar Bear Swim at Lake Lanier in Gainesville Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Paige Fosha’s family members didn’t hesitate to jump in the lake on New Year’s Day.

But already shivering in her bikini on the dock, Fosha had to take another few seconds to muster up her courage before she took the plunge into Lake Lanier.

“It’s something that my mom wanted to do on her bucket list,” Fosha said of driving from Lindale to the annual Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club fundraiser. “I almost didn’t do it, but I had to. They wouldn’t have let me in the car until I did it.”

About 120 people participated in the annual Polar Bear Swim into Lake Lanier, which raised more than $3,000 for the club, which is hoping to buy a new fleet of boats.

George Wangemann, a councilman who is a former mayor of Gainesville, was the first and the last to get into the water.

After growing up watching people brave the waters of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin each winter, Wangemann made it his own new year tradition to jump into the less-frigid Lake Lanier, participating in 15 of the club’s 17 Polar Bear Swims.

“No matter how warm the air temperature is, the water temperature is very cold,” said Wangemann, who remembers getting hypothermia one year when he kept getting back in line for dozens of jumps. He was thankful to begin 2014 with comparatively warm weather at about 40 degrees. “It’s a fun event.”

Twins Sylvia Westberry and Sandra Nowlan had matching pink faces when they emerged from the water.

“We turned 45 this past year, and we wanted to do some adventurous things,” Westberry said as a volunteer scooped up her shoes after they floated to the surface. “It was fun. I don’t know if I’d do it again, but it was fun.”

From bonding with friends to a little adventure, the ritual helped many get in the spirit of the new year, even if they found themselves cursing when they hit the water.

With her dip into the lake, Kate Bill started the year with a challenge to do something new every day.

She was inspired by fellow jumper, her friend Marc Stephens who began his own challenge about 160 days ago on his 34th birthday.

“I was like, ‘Am I a grown up yet? Is there anything new I can do?’” Stephens said, listing off milestones from his first taste of pig’s ear to taking a homeless man to McDonald’s for breakfast and paying off a stranger’s layaway Christmas gifts. “I’ve ended up doing all sorts of weird things I wouldn’t expect.”

Reaching a turning point two weeks ago with the death of his mother, Stephens said he made a conscious choice to continue the challenge, and a little cold weather wasn’t going to stop him this New Year’s Day.

“(Adulthood) doesn’t mean I can’t have fun,” he concluded. “I’m going to go to Day 365.”